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As Los Angeles prepares to begin reopening, Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday warned the city is taking small steps that don’t include allowing people to gather in private.

On Friday, some businesses will reopen for the first time since coronavirus restrictions were put in place, and most city hiking trails and golf courses will open Saturday. But it will still take months, and probably the rest of year, before our way of life feels normal again, Garcetti said in his coronavirus briefing Thursday.

And for now, the stay-home order remains in place — so that includes being physically distant from friends and family who don’t live with you.

“We still cannot hold gatherings. We still cannot get together with people outside our households,” he said. “And we’ll be in this new reality as we move from reacting to this crisis to trying to build a safer and stronger L.A.”

Like other restrictions, Garcetti said he expects rules on private gatherings to be eased gradually.

“We’re not going to just lift it, because you could have a dinner party every single night with nine new strangers,” he said, “and that’s a very risky thing to have.”

But the mayor said he does see a possibility “in the near future” for interactions within a dedicated group of people.

“We encourage people to have a group of people that they know — maybe everybody has been tested — and you stay kind of with that, now slightly bigger, but regular group,” Garcetti said. “So it’s a household-plus.”

But still, as the number of local cases and fatalities continue to climb, Angelenos shouldn’t be meeting with different people every night, even in small groups.

“That’s how this thing spreads,” he said.

First L.A. businesses to reopen Friday

The mayor’s statements come as L.A. braces for the first businesses reopening Friday since coronavirus restrictions were put in place.

Only certain types of shops will be allowed to operate, and they can only offer curbside pickup for phone or online orders — customers still can’t go inside. Stores that can open include those that sell flowers, toys, music, books, clothing and sporting goods, as well as car dealership showrooms.

On Saturday, city hiking trails, trailhead parks and golf courses will reopen, with the exception of Runyon Canyon. New rules will be in place requiring facial coverings and 6 feet of distance between all visitors.

Masks will also be required at Los Angeles International Airport and aboard city and county transit Monday, as more people are expected to venture outside following the lifting of restrictions.

The city’s revised order mirrors guidelines that will be enacted simultaneously across all of L.A. County.

Although the county is beginning to reopen, it remains the epicenter of California’s outbreak, accounting for nearly half of all reported coronavirus cases and fatalities. As of Thursday, there were more than 29,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases countywide, resulting in 1,418 deaths.

Garcetti warned Wednesday that some restrictions may return if the number of cases spikes, saying the city would move slowly and deliberately to reopen “because hasty action kills people.”

COVID-19 remains the leading cause of death in L.A. County, and having more people outside will inherently put everyone at greater risk of infection, county public director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said Thursday.

“Just because something opens up, doesn’t mean you have to go out,” she said.

With Angelenos encouraged to stay home, city offering utility and rent relief

COVID-19 “thrives on cities,” Garcetti said, and so Los Angeles’ stay-home order will be altered but extended past May 15.

“Until we have a vaccine, we’re going to be living under some orders where we have to make sure we are protecting ourselves not gathering in big groups,” he said.

While people stay in their homes, the city is working to help residents who have lost income due to the closures and restrictions.

Garcetti announced Thursday that LADWP will extend its moratorium on shutoffs for Angelenos who don’t pay their bill through the end of the year.

“If you can pay your bill, you absolutely should, as your payments help us provide reliable service across the city,” he said. “But if you’re facing financial hardship and you can’t afford to make every bill on time, you won’t have to worry.”

All Department of Water and Power ratepayers still must repay their bills “down the line,” the mayor said.

The utility also previously canceled penalties for late payments and extended payment plans.

The City Council has also enacted a moratorium on evictions for renters who advise their landlords of their inability to pay, and froze rent increases for units already covered by the city’s rent control measure. Tenants who can’t pay will have a full year to pay their rent back after virus restrictions are lifted.

The council is also working to create a relief fund that would give money directly to landlords to cover for low-income tenants who don’t have savings and would be unable to pay their rent back.

And while the majority of landlords are working with tenants, Council President Nury Martinez said a new ordinance will allow tenants to sue their landlords and be awarded s $10,000 per offense, or $15,000 for those who are over 65 years old or disabled.

“For the bad (landlords), particularly those in black and brown communities like the ones I represent with large immigrant populations that are vulnerable to fraud intimidation: We are putting you on notice, and we’re asking you to stop this behavior or you will pay the consequences,” Martinez said of those trying to intimidate renters into paying.

Garcetti also gave an update on the Angeleno Card program for low-income people and families facing extreme financial hardship due to the coronavirus.

As the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund works to continue distributing the cards, it will implement new computer systems and work to track down people who called to inquire about their application several times but haven’t gotten an answer.

The program has raised $20 million, allowing it to distribute enough cards to benefit 60,000 people. So far, about $6 million has been handed out on the cards, helping out 16,000 people — and it will be a “massive effort” to allocate the rest, Garcetti said.